In South Burlington, Vt., four electric buses could help smooth out curves at the intersection of electric vehicles, new energy systems and battered power grids. The school buses in question, which resemble traditional yellow school buses, contain high-tech batteries that can store renewable energy for use and interact efficiently with local utility systems when the vehicles are not transporting children.
Electric vehicles, which are sometimes criticized for their upfront costs and strain on power grids, can be a silver bullet that absorbs excess energy when it’s abundant and supplies it when demand for electricity peaks. The concept isn’t limited to buses; however, school buses are particularly effective in this role because of their available size and unique operating hours.
Batteries in buses and other electric vehicles are developing a reputation for grid reliability, offering a backup force when conventional power plants and lines struggle during extreme weather events. Grueling summer heat in Texas – and the rolling blackouts it nearly caused – underscored the growing demand for these alternative power sources.
Despite clear advantages, significant obstacles remain. A major hurdle for wider electric vehicle adoption – including school buses – is high initial costs. A single electric school bus can sell for triple the price of its diesel-powered counterpart, despite some expected decreases in price in the near future.
To combat these obstacles, innovative pilots and forward-thinking policies across the U.S. aim to change the dynamic of supply and demand for clean, renewable energy. One such pilot, featuring electric buses in South Burlington, aims to prove the potential impact of these vehicles on the local grid. Research suggests the combined capacity of rooftop solar panels, home batteries and electric vehicles might sufficiently counteract system failures with quick energy injection – an option widely viewed as more reliable than the existing reliance on gas power plants in emergencies.
South Burlington’s school district leases their electric buses from a company near Boston. This company provides the city with equipment to charge the vehicles and pays the associated electricity bills. A regional utility, Green Mountain Power, draws from the bus batteries at times of high electricity demand – a use case that fits perfectly within a wider scheme that includes home batteries and other storage technologies.
Multiple utilities across multiple states are testing different combinations of vehicle batteries, home batteries and other sources to expand available battery storage and turn the grid’s reliance away from out-of-state power plants. This effort, however, will require extensive infrastructure upgrades, legal considerations, and financial investments.
Despite these challenges, the vision is clear: to completely shift the power dynamics of the energy landscape with electric buses and other vehicles, becoming a cornerstone of the clean, reliable energy supply needed to address the growing threats of climate change.